Bureaucratic barricades block help for Grass Valley man dying of cancer
March 14, 2017
Stephen Jobe is not asking for much — just a comfortable place to die with dignity.
But after spending nearly two months caught in a maze of Medi-Cal misdirections and dead ends, Jobe is not so sure he will get his wish.
A year and a half ago, 58-year-old Jobe suffered a seizure while watching television in his Grass Valley home. An MRI revealed a bleeding brain tumor. After rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Jobe said six tumors were discovered, all of them still growing. He has since stopped treatment and his doctor has advised that he go to a long-term care facility.
"At first the doctor gave me only weeks to live, maybe months," he said. "But now he's told me to make it a goal to get to my next birthday, which is in November. I just don't know."
“The system is messed up
— it shouldn’t be that complicated, it makes no sense. Sometimes I ask, ‘Why me?’ But I guess it’s all in God’s plan. Maybe drawing attention to my story will help someone else after I’m gone.”
— Stephen Jobe
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Desperate to make ends meet, Jobe said he sold all of his possessions and bought a van, which he has been living in for the past seven months. Four months ago, members of the Gold Country Calvary Chapel in Grass Valley heard of his story and agreed to let Jobe, a member of the congregation, live in his van on the church's property in exchange for working as a night watchman. But as temperatures dropped and snow began to dust the ground, church members became increasingly concerned.
"Nobody knows how long Stephen has — he has terminal brain cancer and his vision has started to go — he can no longer drive," said congregation member Chris Enss. "Right now he can walk and speak, but he could wake up tomorrow and not be able to talk. He can't live like this — he can't just wait to die in his van."
Joy Sidebottom, also a congregation member, stepped in and made it her mission to find Jobe long-term care. She began making phone calls on his behalf two months ago and hasn't stopped.
"I've spent eight weeks on the phone, being put on hold routinely for as long as an hour and a half," said Sidebottom. "We've called nearly every day and keep getting sent around in circles. We've spent weeks turning over every rock. What if Stephen didn't have someone to help him? Sick people can't advocate for themselves. They die waiting."
The goal was to get Jobe long-term care covered by Medi-Cal and based on his income he qualifies, said Sidebottom. But each day, after agonizingly long waits on hold, Sidebottom says she gets a different answer — and that's if she's actually able to weave her way out of countless automated messages.
BUREAUCRATIC RED TAPE
The bureaucratic quagmire has taken Sidebottom through twists and turns that only seem to bring her back to where she started — "Denied."
After being told to submit specific forms, Jobe was rejected four times without being told that two of those times they were given the wrong forms to begin with. Then he was told he was denied because "your doctor is already on the plan." Another time, a form was deemed incomplete with no explanation as to why, and Jobe was told to "try calling Social Security." Another dead end.
Sidebottom says she is incredulous and stunned by the cruelty of a system supposedly set up to help people in their darkest hour.
"One day I finally got a real person and I told her that Stephen is dying of brain cancer and needs a bed immediately," said Sidebottom. "I emphasized that we had been trying for two months. She said if we wanted a 'fair hearing' to air our grievances we would have to wait another two months."
Days later, after another two-hour phone call, Sidebottom believed she'd gotten the right form, the right doctor, the right health plan and even had a supervisor check it.
"It was denied and they told me they would call back with the reason why," said Sidebottom. "They never called back."
While Jobe has been sleeping in his van, he says he is frustrated by the fact that a bed has been reserved for weeks in his name at a Grass Valley long-term care facility, awaiting official authorization.
Within the past few days, the small the congregation has pooled its resources and rented a small apartment for Jobe where he can shower, stay warm and sleep in a real bed. But this is a temporary solution, added Sidebottom, as Jobe's condition continues to worsen and soon he may not be able to navigate the long flight of stairs.
Last week, Enss called Senator Ted Gaines, Assemblyman Brian Dahle, Congressman Tom McClintock — even The White House — to share her frustration and advocate for Jobe.
CIVILIZED HEALTH CARE?
"So many people want to come to this country for our civilized health care," said Enss. "But nothing could be further from the truth. Stephen needs medical supervision right way. This is unbelievable."
"We need to stop pretending the system is designed for people who need it," echoed Sidebottom. "People are dying while they wait. Sometimes I think the system is designed so that people will give up."
Jobe said he is deeply moved by the generosity of those who continue to work on his behalf at Gold Country Calvary Chapel. But he worries that he's been a burden, and in recent days his headaches have been getting worse.
"I'm just hoping I can spend the rest of my life somewhere comfortable without stressing everyone out, especially my church family," he said. "The system is messed up. It shouldn't be that complicated, it makes no sense. Sometimes I ask, 'Why me?' But I guess it's all in God's plan. Maybe drawing attention to my story will help someone else after I'm gone."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com. Elias Funez contributed to this story. Those interested in helping Stephen Jobe with his expenses may contact Gold Country Calvary Chapel at 530-274-2108.